Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on When the Music's Over.
Another solid outing for DCI Banks and his female partners, DI Annie Cabbot, DC Geraldine Masterson, and DS Winsome Jackman, each of whom are faced with their own personal and professional challenges. The atmospherics are strong: the
humid gray skies cast a pawl while blood continues to flow down the gritty streets of Eastvale. Although Robinson’s novel begins with the search for the identity of the dead teenage girl, the story actually tunnels back to Blackpool
in the summer of 1967, to the rape of well-known local poet Linda Palmer. The tale begins in Bradham Lane, an area on
the outskirts of Eastvale where Annie and Gerry find the body of a teenage girl curled up in a fetal position
with her hands covering her face as if to protect it. Annie is convinced that
the girl has either been kicked or beaten to death. Gerry thinks it's most likely someone she knew who killed her and wanted her dead for a reason.
Meanwhile, recently promoted to Chief Superintendent, Banks is asked by the National Crime Agency to conduct an investigation into Danny Caxton. A household name in the 1960s, Caxton was a handsome variety performer who became famous by hosting a series of television shows. Linda Palmer was only fourteen years old at the time of the alleged assault. Although Linda and her mother reported the incident, Danny Caxton was never charged. In the end, the police told Linda that the matter had been dropped due to lack of evidence. However, with the recent conviction of two famous celebrities--Jimmie Savile and Rolf Harris--Linda has decided
to make her claim of historical abuse, allowing the authorities to finally consider Danny Caxton is “fair game.”
Initially Banks is hesitant to take on the case, convinced he’s going to be “chasing shadows of shadows.” He’s also wary of investigating when there’s no physical or DNA evidence, just a bunch of “dodgy memories.” Still, Banks and DS Jackson begin by interviewing Linda Palmer at her home. Banks trusts his instincts; he knows full well that Linda is telling the truth. So does Winsome who finds it difficult to understand how a
14-year-old girl could be sexuality assaulted by such a famous individual and nothing done.
In Witney on the Norfolk Coast, Banks and Winsome also interview Danny Caxton, who admits he was present at the hotel in Blackpool but denies ever having met Linda Palmer. Now eighty-five and far from the handsome celebrity he once was, Caxton’s reaction to Banks’ questions and his insistence upon the presence of his lawyer lead the detectives to believe that Caxton is lying, especially when he starts ranting about how the media are pursuing a “witch hunt” and that he’s merely the next celebrity to be accused of “groping a young publicist fifty years ago.” Banks and Winsome believe there is far more to the case, the essence of which is the deliberate, arrogant, and systematic abuse of underage girls by people such as Caxton who believe they’re above the law.
The identity of the dead girl remains a puzzle, one that leads Annie and Gerry deep into the racially charged neighborhood of Wytherton. Beyond the sultry evenings, clammy with the endless summer heat, the detectives discover that several Pakistani men have been plying underage girls with drink and drugs then grooming them as sex objects. Annie and Gerry are positive that the dead girl identified was part of a group of girls willing to flirt with older Asian men around the half-mile stretch of Wytheton Town
In his two-pronged narrative that only occasionally feels unwieldy, Robinson connects the sullen working-class Estates of Wytherton to Danny Caxton’s nefarious deeds back in Blackpool. Obsessed with the skeletons of her past, Linda Palmer confesses that there was a second rapist, a witness to that night of terror, but she has only a fleeting glimpse, one either half-forgotten or half-perceived. While Linda falters, half-unwilling to plunge herself into “the dark, flimsy box” she has constructed to hold her memories of those days, Banks juggles his newfound tenderness for her with the shifting sandstorm of accusations, lies, and half-truths that begin to form around a convoluted history of murder, police corruption, and cover-ups. As usual, it is Annie, Gerry, and Banks’ talent for interviewing the chief suspects that eventually put this double-edged mystery into perspective, two crimes tying the ghosts of Linda’s past to a disturbing and contemporary reflection on Britain’s race relations.
While Robinson’s ability to write spot-on dialogue certainly adds energy to the novel, more profound is his exploration of what it means to be someone in the public eye when their private and public personas are constantly filtered through the mass media. Clearly Caxton is evil, yet for so many years he was welcomed by the public but resented in private in equal measure. How is Caxton celebrated and then indicted? The author holds this question up to the spotlight and renders it in moving and disturbing answers.